New Direction at the State

The official word has yet to come from 719 Congress, but the State Theater Company is in the midst of its biggest artistic shift in a dozen years. Don Toner, Producing Artistic Director of the company since 1987 (when it was Live Oak Theatre), is stepping back from the role of artistic director to focus on managerial duties full-time. According to company members who attended a small meeting at the theatre last week, Toner announced that, as of this fall, he will be focusing almost exclusively on the administration of the company and that the State's board of directors will be conducting a national search for a new artistic director. He also said that a new associate artistic director had been named: Guy Chandler Roberts, who appeared in the State's production of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and is directing its production of The Taming of the Shrew which opens this Friday.

This is big news for the State. While directors besides Toner have staged the company's work -- most notably, company artists Joe York and Jill Parker-Jones, but also guest artists such as Peter Sheridan -- the hand at the artistic helm for the past 12 years has always been Toner's. It's Toner who has brought artists into the company "family," as he's fond of calling it, Toner who has consistently sought projects to showcase its key actors (Babs George, Steve Shearer, Steve Fromholz, Dirk Van Allen, Thomas C. Parker, Janelle Buchanan, and Boni Hester, among others), Toner who has directed the majority of its productions. And even when he has not staged shows himself, he has kept his hand in the creative mix, casting here, building sets there. To call his artistic leadership style hands-on is putting it mildly. For 12 years, he has made himself a part of almost every creative decision made by his company.

That's not to say that every creative decision made at Live Oak/the State during Toner's stay has reflected an identifiable artistic vision. On the contrary, for much of that time discerning a real artistic course in the company has been difficult. While it has established certain types of plays that it stages regularly -- the most obvious being Texas plays and traditional American dramas -- the State has not done so with the sense of artistic purpose that one typically finds in regional theatres of its longevity and status. It's been a little bit of everything, in such a way that the company's artistic identity is hazy. The strongest sense of character I've drawn from the company's work under Toner has been a concern with family. Many of what are for me the company's most memorable productions -- e.g., All the Way Home, The Immigrant, Calvin's Garden, Beast on the Moon -- have centered on family, as have a goodly number of the shows I've found less than memorable. Given that and Toner's vision of company as family, I've found it curious that he never did more to capitalize on family as an artistic basis for his company. But now that opportunity appears to be past, and the hand that has always been there in 12 years' worth of creative decisions won't be.

That in itself will make things very different.

This is certainly an apt time for the State to chart a new artistic course, what with the renovation of the former moviehouse space into a venue for live performance and the opening of a second theatre -- a first for the company -- in the adjacent Reynolds-Penland Building. New facilities offer new potential. Here's to seeing that potential realized.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Articulations
The Harry Ransom Center has acquired all the professional and personal materials of profoundly influential acting teacher Stella Adler

Robert Faires, April 30, 2004

It's the end of an era for the city of Austin's Art in Public Places Program as Martha Peters, administrator of the program for 11 of its 18 years, departs to direct a public art program in Fort Worth.

Robert Faires, July 18, 2003


Arts News, State Theater Company, Don Toner, Guy Chandler Roberts, Jill Parker-jones, Joe York, Steve Fromholz, Babs George, Steve Shearer, Dirk Van Allen, Thomas C. Parker, Boni Hester, Janelle Buchanan

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle